Shining a spotlight on celebrities and athletes who love to travel. Created and developed by Stacy Steponate Greenberg.
From the silence to the cheers, to the smack of the ball hitting the racquet, tennis is a game of skill, concentration and fun. Imagine being ranked the number one college tennis player in the country, going on to be ranked top ten in the world, and along the way being named one of People Magazine’s Top Single & Sexy Men. It was James Blake who accomplished all those and much more. Today, the father of two travels the world playing exhibitions and running The James Blake Foundation, which is dedicated to cancer research and finding a cure. This fall, his list of accomplishments will expand, to include running the New York City Marathon. The Overhead Compartment was lucky enough to play a few sets with James Blake and find out about his travels, his love for the game of golf, and who he thinks is going to win the U.S.Open.
THE OVERHEAD COMPARTMENT with James Blake begins now…..
OC: You’ve traveled all over the world playing tennis, what was your favorite city to visit?
JB: My favorite city to visit was Rome. I really didn’t do much sight seeing while I was traveling for tennis, but I felt like I really needed to there. And it was definitely worth it.
OC: How did you spend your free time when you were there?
JB: I went to see the Colosseum while I was there, the Vatican, Trevi Fountain and otherwise I just ate the amazing food.
OC: Which country has the most passionate tennis fans?
JB: I would say the most passionate tennis fans are in England. They wait in line overnight for tickets to Wimbledon and that event is just incredible. They seem to appreciate everything that comes with the event.
OC: Why have we seen so few American men becoming great players in recent years?
JB: I think it’s just a bit of a down cycle right now. American tennis fans may have been a little spoiled with the past few generations that have been incredible. But I do think there is a bright future. Right now there is a lot of talent at the junior level that will make its way onto the tour in the next few years.
OC: What was your most memorable match?
JB: My most memorable match is sadly a loss. My quarterfinal match in 2005 at the U.S. Open against Andre Agassi. It was 7-6 in the fifth and I think it finished around 1 am. It was such a special night for tennis that I will never forget it.
OC: Tennis seems to be a very isolating sport. Did you find it to be that way and if so, what would you do to help pass the time?
JB: It can be very isolating at times. Some of that I enjoyed. I liked counting on myself out there and having nobody to blame but myself when things go wrong. But it can be tough to travel that way all the time. That’s where it helps to have a lot of good friends on tour. The Americans all got along so well. We would play cards together, go to dinners, play golf if we had time or whatever we could think of to pass the many hours on the road.
OC: You’re known as an avid lover of golf, would you have ever considered a career as a professional golfer?
JB: I would have considered it if I had anywhere near the talent necessary for it. I love playing golf and it’s such a fun sport because no matter your level, you can play with anyone and enjoy it. But I also have a ton of respect for how difficult the game is skill wise and even more mentally.
OC: Who has a tougher grind, the pro golfers or tennis players?
JB: Well, I might be a little biased, but I think tennis players have a tougher grind. Our tournaments are a week or two weeks, not 4 days. We have to be all over the world as opposed to mainly on one continent. And physically, our level of fitness is constantly tested. I do think golf takes a great deal of mental strength to focus so intently on every single shot. But I also realize that golfers or tennis players shouldn’t complain too much about the jobs. We are still playing a game for a living, which I think is just about every kids dream.
OC: You played tennis at Harvard for two seasons and by the second season, you were ranked the nation’s top-ranked player. What was the best thing about playing for an Ivy League college?
JB: The best thing I found about playing at an Ivy League school is the feeling that everything isn’t all about the sport. The people there were so impressive that it wasn’t easy to stand out. I liked that people had very different skill sets and all were extremely impressive at what they did. It made me feel good to feel like I was a part of such a rich tradition and that I wasn’t treated special just because I could play tennis. It is a good lesson for a much longer life than a 14 year career.
OC: What advice would you give to aspiring young tennis players that have dreams of playing professional tennis?
JB: I would say try to enjoy every part of it. Even the tough parts when you are working hard. It is truly a privilege to get to do that. So make the most of it while you can and every once in a while take it in and think about how lucky you are.
OC: In 2008 you were named one of People Magazine’s Single & Sexy Men. Do you remind your wife Emily of that often?
JB: Haha. I think my wife would puke if I reminded her of that often. I’m not sure how that happened, but I know People Magazine isn’t knocking down my door anytime soon anymore. And for the record I am a distant second in the looks department in my marriage.
OC: And speaking of family, you’re the father of two young girls. What’s the secret to traveling with them?
JB: The secret to traveling with two young children is patience. It is supremely difficult and frustrating. My wife does a great job with the preparation to make our jobs easier, but even with all that, patience will be necessary. It makes me say that I will never complain about traveling alone again after traveling with two little kids.
OC: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you on an airplane?
JB: For all the travel I have done, I actually don’t have too many crazy stories about that. I have had planes go down for medical emergencies before.
OC: First thing you do when arriving at a hotel in your room?
JB: The first thing I do is check the bed. I hate soft mattresses and they hurt my back. So I check to see if the bed is firm enough and same with the pillows. If the mattress is too soft, I know I might be sleeping on the floor so my back doesn’t hurt.
OC: Biggest pet peeve about hotels?
JB: My biggest pet peeve is nice hotels that charge extra for Internet. I feel like by now, places should make Wifi free.
OC: Complete the following sentence: I never leave home without:
JB: My passport. You never know when you want to take a spur of the moment trip.
OC: You grew up and are friends with John Mayer. Did you have any idea he would turn out to be a rock star?
JB: I can’t honestly say I knew. I can say I hoped. He worked so hard and loves music so much that I hoped he would make it. But I also had heard the cautionary tales of how many people try and how unlikely it is. So I knew a lot of things had to go right for him and I’m so happy they did and he had become a Grammy winner and a bona fide rock star.
OC: We need one great “John Mayer as a kid” story.
JB: One great story is that I was very good friends with his younger brother Ben. So I was over the Mayers house for a sleepover and was playing with Ben. His mom really wanted Ben to have his own friends and didn’t want John to be hanging around with us. But we ended up watching tv in the basement and John came down there. All 3 of us fell asleep on the couch and were awakened by his mom smacking John awake. She said she told him not to be down there and made him go back to his own room. But we all remembered how loud that smack was from Mrs. Mayer.
OC: What’s your prediction of who will win the U.S. Open and who do you think is the best player in the world today?
JB: I will say Andy Murray will win it, but I think Novak is still the best in the world overall.
OC: One secret about you no one knew until now:
JB: I haven’t had a piece of candy since 7th grade when I gave it up for lent.
James Blake, please use care upon departure as items may have shifted in The Overhead Compartment during our journey. Thanks for choosing us for your travel tips! Have a wonderful day!